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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 June, 2004, 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK
End of a love story

Ron and Nancy
A tender moment for Ronald and Nancy Reagan

When he announced his Alzheimer's in a letter to the American people, Ronald Reagan's first thought was for his beloved wife.

His statement read: "I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease... I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience."

Nancy, who had centred her life on Ronald Reagan for the past 40 years, was to become his rock more than ever.

His death has ended what Charlton Heston once described as "the greatest love affair in the history of the American presidency".

Movie star match

Ron and Nancy were in "the biz" when they first met - but their date was politically motivated.

As a 26-year-old starlet in Hollywood, Nancy was aghast to find that there was another Nancy Davis on a list of communist sympathisers.

Wedding picture
A quiet wedding
She knew that Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, was a staunch anti-communist who could help her out, and she sought a meeting with him.

Still getting over his divorce from actress Jane Wyman, with whom he had two children, the actor agreed to meet, but said he could not have a late night as he had a pre-dawn call. At 3am on that first date, they were already planning their next.

"I don't know if it was exactly love at first sight, but it was pretty close," Nancy said.

When he said "let's get married" one night over dinner in their favourite restaurant, she simply replied, "let's". It, too, was a simple affair - a secret ceremony on 4 March, 1952 at the Little Brown Church just out of Los Angeles.

Their daughter Patti was born seven months later, and Ron followed in 1958.

'Never stopped courting'

The movie-star couple seemed to enjoy a silver screen love-life. Nancy Reagan would fix her husband with her adoring gaze, hanging on every word of every speech.

Their passion was clear on the campaign trail when their goodbye kisses turned hardened reporters to mush.

Ron and Nancy
Nancy: "My life began with Ronnie"
"We would turn aside because we felt that there was something very special, private and wonderful going on between them," a former NBC White House correspondent said.

At the White House, they always walked hand in hand, and the couple would leave love notes around their residence which multiplied ten-fold on birthdays and anniversaries.

One of Nancy Reagan's press secretaries once said, "They never took each other for granted. They never stopped courting."

In her 1989 autobiography My Turn, Nancy Reagan said it was all for real. "Some of the reporters who wrote about me felt that our marriage was at least partly an act. But it wasn't, and it isn't."

Parenting problems

Their extraordinary closeness may have been to the detriment of their relationships with their children. None of the four children were particularly close to their parents while they were in the White House.

Family portrait
A fraught family history
According to a 1998 Vanity Fair article, Nancy was closest to Maureen, Ronald Reagan's daughter from his earlier marriage. Michael, the adopted son from that marriage, and Ronald's two children with Nancy, were said to have had their falling outs and periods of estrangement from the family.

But when the children learned of their father's diagnosis, they raced to rally around their parents.

Stars in their eyes

However, the wholesome all-American marriage came in for criticism on occasion. A biography of Nancy by Kitty Kelley in 1991 contained allegations that she had had an affair with Frank Sinatra.

It said that Nancy had invited Sinatra to the White House for lengthy luncheons and instructed staff not to disturb them.

Ron and Nancy
"They never stopped courting"
Nancy Reagan was also accused of having too much influence on her husband during his campaigns - hardly an uncommon criticism of first ladies.

The first couple were also frowned upon for relying too heavily on horoscopes. One former White House aide asserted that the reading of the president's charts prompted Nancy to change the time and date of scheduled events, cancel trips and severely restrict activities outside the White House.

Onset of illness

With the man she married gradually slipping away, Nancy Reagan became more fiercely protective than ever, managing what she termed Ronald Reagan's "long goodbye".

Early in his illness she planned a full daily schedule to keep the former president busy and fit. She signed him out of the house for a few hours in the office every weekday and became protective of his image, forbidding all photographs.

She told Vanity Fair in 1998: "Our relationship is very special. We were very much in love and still are. When I say my life began with Ronnie, well, it's true. It did. I can't imagine life without him."

With her life-long supporting role now over, Nancy will be forced to adjust to life without her leading man.


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